New Zealand Law Society - Outsourcing middle office services in Middle Earth

Outsourcing middle office services in Middle Earth

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Within law firms, administrative functions have undergone a dramatic evolution. While the need for traditional word processing has been minimised, it hasn’t disappeared. Instead, it has changed into a position that requires highly skilled, specialised staff.

As the tasks have become more sophisticated, so have the backgrounds and experience of the people performing them. Secretaries have been supplemented by trained document specialists who possess advanced skills for “middle office” tasks like developing spreadsheets, creating presentations, desktop publishing, and handling niche practice group needs such as intellectual property, litigation, and insurance defence.

This change has left many law firms scrambling to find a cost-effective way to match the tasks that must be accomplished with their current staff.

Increasingly, today’s firms are finding the right balance by outsourcing. Professional support service providers often represent the most optimal way to deliver and execute utilising new methodologies, workflow technology, and alternative approaches to staff resourcing. Additionally, vital services that have traditionally been delivered onsite such as document processing, administrative assistance, IT help desk support, accounts payable/accounts receivable, proofreading, desktop publishing, marketing, and database management can now be seamlessly migrated off-site.

By understanding how the landscape has changed, what skills and technology are becoming standard for middle office support staff, and what options are available, firms can drive meaningful economic, operational and resource efficiencies.

From word processing to middle office services

As the services law firms provide have changed, so has the terminology around them. Today, there are several terms for these types of services, including Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Legal Processing Outsourcing (LPO).

Adopting a term more commonly used in the financial services industry, some law firms have labelled these tasks as “middle office services” – those areas that require more skill and interaction than traditional back-office functions, but are not a direct part of practising law.

Areas like litigation support, IT, the document review process, and the middle office space, which includes legal support staff, word processing and legal research, are now under the microscope.

They are the new “green fields” for law firm cost control and savings initiatives. More and more firms are rethinking their positions in these areas. Many are asking themselves if making capital investments in labour and technology infrastructure that changes so rapidly makes sense. They are reviewing their secretarial ratios and the way they measure support staff productivity, if at all. In that regard, they are looking to benefit from labour arbitrage and space reclamation relating to their middle office support areas.

Case for outsourcing middle office services

Despite changing times and technology, some firms have been hesitant to dramatically alter their approaches. For many, the system does not seem so broken, so it’s not worth a dramatic revamp to fix.

Lawyers may worry about the loss of control that comes with outsourcing information and projects. When lawyers and staff outsource functions, they feel that they not only lose direct supervision, but there are concerns around client confidentiality and privilege once data leaves the office walls.

Yet these changes are well worth the time and effort involved, when lawyers and staff do their research and identify the right new approaches and partners. Consider the advantages in cost savings, increased operational efficiencies and improved experiences those who outsource middle office services can achieve:

  • Average of 25%-45% annual operating savings.
  • Creating a variable cost model enabling a reduction in fixed costs.
  • Space optimisation through space savings or space re-purposing.
  • Scalable platform and efficient 24/7/365 coverage.
  • Technology, workflow and reporting enhancements.
  • Improved lawyer experience through access to support during most demanded hours.
  • Enhanced scope of services supported.
  • Consistency of services across offices.

Lesley Fulton is the business development manager for DTI New Zealand. Lesley has worked for DTI, formerly Merrill Corporation, since 2005. Lesley was the training and quality manager for DTI New Zealand until 2011, when she moved into further developing the New Zealand client side of the business. She has a background in training, project management and business.

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